Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Glee: "Comeback"

Glee's timing of the so-called "Justin Bieber episode" could not have been more interesting. In light of Sunday night's Grammys, in which the kid went 0-for-2, and the release of his 3D concert film/"biography," which made north of $30 million over the weekend, it seems that Bieber fever has reached a new pinnacle. And though I'm sure it was hardly Ryan Murphy's intent for this episode, the question was brought up: just what does Bieber's fame mean, and how exactly did it happen?

This past weekend has answered a lot of this. His movie was a huge success, particularly with females under 25 (which made up a whopping 84% of ticket sales). At this point, Bieber seems be straddling the line between pop culture phenomenon and cult figure, complete with rabid fans that will go to surprising extremes (such as tweeted death threats and editing the Wikipedia page of someone who wins a Grammy over him) for him, whether he asked for it or not; in a way, their the pop-music equivalents of Korn or Limp Bizkit fans from the beginning of the millennium, an audience of people who see Bieber as more than just a pop star, but an icon, a love, a voice of their generation. There is no "liking" Bieber, or "tolerating" him or thinking that he's "okay;" you either can't stand his simplistic brand of polished pop or you are obsessed with him, knowing everything from his favorite condiment to what products he uses to craft that perfectly-sculpted coif that has come to define him. But what is it about him that has landed him the undying devotion of fans ranging from 12-year-old girls to their mothers as well? Is it his middle-school-poetry lyrics, simple enough to tap into the most primal feelings of love in a crowd that is either experiencing puberty or longing for the days when "serious" relationships meant being together for more than a week? Is it boyish looks, a Nike-wearing Peter Pan who represents the perfect first love, the guy that every preteen girl wants to call her boyfriend? Or is there something else there, something that can't be put into a words, an aura that you're either immune to or completely overtaken by?

Glee doesn't provide a straight answer to this, but it does present the Cult of Bieber as something mystifying. Sam decides to start an acoustic Bieber tribute band called The Justin Bieber Experience as a way of winning Quinn back from her sort-of feelings for Finn, even going so far as to utter the phrase, "And who's more rock 'n' roll than Justin Bieber?" (Who, indeed). This leads to a scene where Sam is test-running his act at a bat mitzvahs: at first, these tween girls are bored, playing with their phones, but as soon as that magical refrain of "Baby, baby, baby, oooooh," starts, they suddenly turn into a rabid mob, rushing the stage with squeals of delight. When Sam performs the song in glee club, all of the girls, initially scoffing at the mention of the Biebs, are putty in his hands by the end of the song. The other guys (except Finn), realizing the Pied Piper quality of Bieber's music to lure girls, want in on the group, and thus all of their relationships are saved by the sugary bubblegum of Bieber's "Somebody to Love."

That's the extent of the actually Bieber music, which didn't include "U Smile," the one song the kid's done that actually proves that, as his voice develops, he could be quite the vocalist one day. Elsewhere in this episode, Sue has nothing left to live for, attempting suicide with gummy vitamins. Will decides, with the help of "wait, she's still in this show?" Emma, to let Sue join the glee club to heal her with the power of music. Its a plot that never really goes anywhere, aside from a sweet scene in a pediatric cancer ward (when Will helps people, its go big or go home for him) and a not-at-all shocking revelation at the end. Its been noted before on several sites (including this one) that this season's best episodes haven't featured Sue at all, which makes me wonder: how did Sue, the most refreshing character on the show last season, become a liability this year? I would say it comes from a lack of interesting plots, which usually involve her trying to undo the glee club in more and more outrageous ways that she's essentially become the Wile E. Coyote to Will's Roadrunner. This is a problem that should be rectified soon. Also, Rachel's attempts to become a fashion icon, but ending up usurped by Brittany? This was stupid subplot that didn't ring true to either character, and seemed to be shoved in their for no good reason.

The show's non-Bieber musical numbers were an eclectic bunch. Will's theme was "anthems," which is also the theme of Regionals, which it turns out may actually be happening soon. Lauren's "I Know What Boys Like" was unnecessary, but it was true to the confident nature of her character, and I enjoyed the looks on everyone's faces as she performed. The diva-off between Mercedes and Rachel was a great rendition of Rent's "Take Me or Leave Me," a song that added an awkward subtext to their performance that made it slightly off-putting, but the power of their voices and the slow evolution of anger to fun between them worked for me, not to mention I unabashedly love Rent and am always happy to hear a number from that show. The final performance was My Chemical Romance's "Sing," off of their most recent album; it was an interesting choice of anthem (and I'm actually glad that the show's choices in anthems were different, if not exactly the best), and it was a spirited performance, even though the show seemed to suddenly be based in Portland for the number (no, My Chemical Romance has very little in common with the Pacific Northwest rock scene, but good try, Glee).

Overall, not a lot happened in this episode so far as narrative momentum, but there were some fine character moments and minor plots that could be taking some interesting turns. It wasn't really a comeback for Glee; compared to "Silly Love Songs," it was really more of a letdown. But it also wasn't a terrible episode, instead it was a good one. I'm sure the Cult of Bieber would approve.

- Finn has had an astonishing consistency about him lately. It seems that the creators have finally decided to drop the air-headed jock caricature that's dominated him for most of the show's run and turned him into a real person. Keep this up, please.

- Speaking of real characters, Rachel's improved greatly as this season's gone on. Its too bad Lea Michele keeps getting stupid subplots in light of this.

- We saw earlier this season that Chord Overstreet (what a name!) could do a great Matthew McConaughey. Turns out he can do a killer James Earl Jones too.

- Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: [in response to learning that Kurt and the Warblers will be one of New Directions' competitors at Regionals] "Sweet Porcelain."

1 comment:

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I agree with the Sue problem, they don't know what to do other than (a) make her quotable, or (b) show a surprisingly soulful side.

I am most impressed with the treatment of Quinn these past couple of episodes. The writing, the performance by Agron; when they know what to do with Quinn, her character shines. A pity they rarely know what to do with her.

I can't explain the power of the Bieber, all I know is that I like his music.